Dibakar Banerjee. One name that’s managed to carve a cult status for the kind of films he’s made of late. Right from two back to back dark comedies to an experimental voyeuristic film that has pushed the boundaries of filmmaking in Indian cinema, he’s done it all. And now he’s back with what’s touted to be a thriller, and he’s got the dream starcast for a film that’s expected to be different – Emraan Hashmi, Abhay Deol, Kalki Koechlin and Prosenjit Chatterjee. And this time, instead of his regular Sneha Khanwallkar, he’s gone a notch above to team up with India’s hottest music duo Vishal and Shekhar. Everything’s going perfectly well for the film, isn’t it? Or is it? Well, and for a film with a topic as hot as this, it’s been mired into quite a few controversies, keeping it in the news, right in front of everyone’s eyes.
Set in Bharat Nagar, this movie’s about three people – Krishnan (Abhay Deol), a bureaucrat who’s been brought in for damage control, videographer-pornographer Jogi (Emraan Hashmi), who comes across a seemingly mindless object that later turns out to be the one thing many people are ready to kill him for, and Shalini (Kalki Koechlin), who fears upon the arrival of Dr. Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee), who’s received death threats of late. During his assembly, the inevitable happens, the crowd gets violent at him, some of his loyal followers are rashly beaten up, and he’s murdered in what’s made to look like an accident. With Shalini screaming her lungs hoarse, Jogi suddenly at risk for his life, and Krishnan facing many challenges on an enquiry commission that was supposed to be a simple report, the city of Bharat Nagar (and it’s dream to turn it into a developed place) is thrown into a chaos that sucks them deep into a vortex they doubt they can get out of.
To pull off a film like this is a challenge in itself. Political thrillers and dramas have been done to death, and the last one (an undoubtedly thrilling Rajneeti) also followed a certain formula in bits and spurts, though on the whole, the movie did turn out to be different, with the sort of engaging screenplay and unpredictable twists you can expect from a good thriller. This, fortunately, hasn’t gone all formulaic, and makes the stuff as raw and real as possible. Politics, banners, campaigns – all of it is shown in a raw, realistic light and it’s all thanks to Banerjee’s vision and the engaging screenplay by Banerjee himself, alongwith Urmi Juvekar, bring together a great blend of narrative, where at places there’s an eerie calm, but for all those who notice this calm, you know there’s a calm before the storm. Right from the abstract start that’s given us meaning of the scene much later with the proceedings, to the abstract end, the movie is filled with dashes of abstract puzzle-pieces that we need to solve, by watching the movie by and by, never missing a scene. Characters are superbly written, and each character has his own nuance (Emraan Hashmi’s goofball smile, Abhay Deol’s impassiveness, Kalki Koechlin’s passive aggression and temper)that’s well shown.
Technically, what catches your eye is the minimalist background score and the camerawork, which contributes Nikos Andritsakis’ cinematography splendidly. Vishal and Shekhar’s music from the soundtrack isn’t used too much, which does of course leave music buffs disappointed, though in the long sight of things, this turned out to be a good move, because songs like Khudaaya and Dua would have screeched the consistent pace to a halt, confusing the viewer even more. Imported Kamariya works well, as does Bharat Mata Ki Jai , both integrated solidly into the narrative. Morcha is heard mostly in the background of all the campaigns, and it gels well with the thematic element of the scenes. At the risk of repeating myself, the camerawork needs praise. One take shots that perform a superlative marriage with the consistent, not-so-fast feel of the narrative are to be watched out for.
Performances send this film to another level altogether. Let’s start with Kalki Koechlin. We all know she’s an amazing performer, but here, there’s a whole lot of emotions she’s effortlessly put to fore, like a pro. And if Koechlin’s set the bar, Emraan Hashmi’s set his own. With an award winning performance of your unconventional hero – stained teeth, paunch, ugly looking and a videographer-pornographer by profession – that’s as selfless and good-samaritanlike as he is into a business which doesn’t give you the luxury of being nice. Abhay Deol knows his game well. If only he’d worked on his South Indian accent a bit more, his role would have hit bullseye. Nevertheless, he impresses, as in his quietness, he’s able to speak volumes. Pitobash Tripathi is fun, but in the last few roles, he’s been cast stereotypically. Supriya Pathak is another performance that makes you sit up and notice. Stong-willed, confident, and mysterious, this woman, with just one scene, holds her own even today. The last of the major supporting characters are Prosenjit Chatterjee and Titlotama Shome playing husband and wife, and both are just fabulous, especially the latter. She needs to be seen more in Hindi cinema. Chatterjee is bound to get more roles in the future; we might even see him make the transition from Bengali to Hindi cinema. Others are good.
Overall, this is a film that’s different from other Dibakar Banerjee movies, simply because of the style he’s managed to put forth in comparison with his previous efforts (his first two were humorous, and his third also had dashes of humor), but still holds the auteur’s touch for those small things that give the movie a typical Bannerjee stamp – film buffs will notice it, others who are lost won’t understand the film as a whole. This one’s experimental, and – as you get into the groove of it all – helluva roller-coaster ride. The summer just got hotter with this one. Go for it!
PS: Has anyone noticed the subtle similarities between Shanghai and Suketu Mehta’s cult non-fiction book Maximum City?